I’ve decided to look at the work of all photographers suggested as research for this exercise. However, I don’t intend to spend too much time doing anything but talking about a few examples I choose and commenting on how those examples relate to my ideas/how they inspire me. I did originally intend to do a bit more research for this exercise and, possibly, explore how and why the images were made. But after reading a blog post by fellow OCA student Emma—particularly when it comes to how much research is necessary—I’ve decided that I need to step back a little from my books/words and spend a lot more time with my camera. I’m beginning to understand that losing myself in books about photography is preventing me from actually doing photography. As much as I love to read about photography, I much prefer to do it. And, quite honestly, I learn a hell of a lot more by making/reviewing/considering my own images than I do reading about images made by other photographers. ‘Nuff said.
Diane Arbus1, 2
I find the work of Arbus so interesting. I mean, what’s not to love about the ability to stare at people who seem so different to the self? And it’s not because I want to laugh at/ridicule other people based on their differences… it’s more that I find difference so interesting. Sometimes, I’m even jealous of it. The boldness of people who just don’t care a damn about what other people think, I mean.
That said, for this post I chose examples of Arbus’s work that show subjects who, I assume, are willing to be photographed *because* of their difference. Put another way, people who want to be seen as different by viewers of the images (for me, it’s a form of permission: I am different, I don’t care that I’m different, I want to be seen as different). Other examples of Arbus’s work—for example, her photographs of people with Down’s Syndrome—I find terribly offensive. Don’t get me wrong, to not photograph people with Down’s Syndrome would be just as offensive to me. My point: to use Down’s Syndrome as the reason to (or not to) photograph a person is my problem. Maybe that’s because I have friends who have siblings/children with Down’s Syndrome, but I hope not. I’m sure that I would be offended by the idea even if I had never known the difficulties faced by people with Down’s Syndrome (note: the above doesn’t apply when it comes to medical photography. Provided, of course, that the medical photography doesn’t end up on the gallery wall).
So, what do I take from Arbus? It’s okay for me to photograph people who are different provided they are aware/give me permission to photograph them *because* of that difference. Basically, for any kind of photography I do, I want the person I photograph to always be aware of my intention.
Richard Avedon3, 4, 5
I am totally in love with Avedon’s work. But again, even though I love so much of his work, like Arbus, I have a problem with some of his images. The first two images shown are just so typically Avedon—white background/straight on—and it’s what I love about his photography… it’s so beautifully harsh. For me, the images show the “other” in quite a freaky/disturbing way (the pose, the contrast, the bright white, and the expressions of the subjects). Viewing the images and seeing the subject look at me, it’s almost as if Avedon has totally inverted the situation and made me—the viewer—the “other”. When I view Arbus’s work, I am very aware that I’m looking at the subject but Avedon’s images somehow make me feel as if I’m the one being looked at. This makes the subject so much more powerful that it’s almost intimidating. In fact, if someone could capture this exact same strength in a photo showing a person with Down’s Syndrome, perhaps I would be okay with it? The subject’s strength changes *everything* for me.
I can’t say the same about the third image, showing a patient of a mental institution. I find it another example of a person being photographed because of his difference but being unaware that his difference is the reason for the image (unlike the first two). I just have such a problem with images made of people who are unable to give consent (the reason why I had such a hard time with candid photography, I suppose).
I couldn’t end this section without including the following image6:
I just love the above image. And, believe it or not, it’s not because of the skin. It’s the format I love. I was considering creating sets of triptychs for this exercise and the above image makes me want to explore that possibility even more (that said, the more I look at it, the more I think of a Benetton/GAP advert and that’s not really my thing).
I’ve looked at Dijkstra’s work while studying other modules, however, both the course work and fellow OCA student Judy Bach suggested I take another look at her work for this exercise. So that’s what I did. Even though I prefaced this post by saying that I wouldn’t do book-research, I just couldn’t help myself with this photographer. Consider the following quote taken from Charlotte Cotton’s The Photograph as Contemporary Art:
“In the early to mid-1990s, [Dijkstra] photographed children and young teenagers on beaches as they came out of the sea. Dijkstra captured the vulnerability and physical self-consciousness of her subjects as they were caught in that transitional space of exposure between the protection of being in the water and the anonymity of sitting or lying on a beach towel. The choice of a particular moment or space in which to portray her subjects is a governing element of Dijkstra’s work.” (Cotton, 2014: p.111-112)7
I love this idea of choosing a particular moment in space to portray a subject and I really think it worked so well for so many of Dijkstra’s portraits. Consider the following examples8, 9, 10 showing three women at different stages after childbirth:
According to tate.org.uk, “While bearing signs of their recent ordeal – the medical pants and sanitary towel which Julie wears, a trickle of blood down the inside of Tecla’s left leg, the caesarean scar on Saskia’s belly – the women appear proud and happy.”11
Far be it from me to argue with the tate website, but I struggle to see happiness in the images above (what was I expecting, I wonder? Wide, toothy-grins?). That said, I see so much in the way these woman hold themselves and their babies; they all appear so proud, so calm/unphased… and, tbh, so different to how I’d expect.
After typing the above, I wonder, is the way these women appear so composed after such a traumatic experience (both physically and mentally) the happiness I thought I couldn’t see? Funny, I spend so much time reading someone’s expressions to gauge emotion–me, the person who understands completely that a smile is rarely a reliable indication of how a person truly feels inside (I’m a Prozac Pro)–when, maybe, faces are the last thing I should concern myself with.
While I’ve seen the above images before, oddly, it’s only now looking at/thinking about them for this exercise that I’m beginning to see just how brilliant they are.
Sideline: I read that the women photographed were friends of Dijkstra and it reminded me of how another photographer-favourite of mine, Mona Kuhn, also uses friends as models. To use nothing but friends/friends of friends in my photography would be my *absolute* dream–I’m still so terrified of strangers.
So, what do I take from Dijkstra? I’m really interested in the idea of finding a space to portray a subject but I’m not quite sure how I could achieve that for this exercise. I suppose it depends on the model… they would have to be or do something that offers the space to photograph. Need to think. Irrelevant of whether or not I find a way to explore this space, it’s definitely something I’d like to think about in the future. Also, as much as my comfort-zine hates to admit, there’s so much more I can achieve with my photography if I move the camera away from myself.
Sideline: I’m always so concerned when other photographers cause me to think about how they work… I’m worried that emulating other photographers is another example of doing what someone has already done before.
To close this section, I wanted to include more examples of Dijkstra’s beach portraits, shown below12, 13, 14, 15:
I love the images above and I totally get that sense of vulnerability/awkwardness (again, it’s the bodies and the way the subjects hold themselves). What I really like about them, however, is the light, achieved by using a combination of flash/natural light (again, flash photography is something I’m really into exploring).
Katy Grannan16, 17, 18
I so don’t want to like the images above because I feel so incapable of making anything similar. And yet, I really *really* like Grannan’s work. The examples above are the result of Grannan approaching strangers and asking to take their portraits (I believe that each person photographed is compensated financially). I just find the people Grannan photographs so interesting to look at (the third image above is my absolute favourite).
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen someone on the street and felt a strong urge to photograph them. Perhaps it’s something about how a person looks, or how they are dressed, or possibly how they move. Irrelevant of what inspires me, I’ve never moved further than the desire to want to ask them. I just can’t jump that flipping hurdle. Perhaps it will always be a problem for me. Perhaps that inability will always determine direction in my photography. Or perhaps this exercise and the experience of working with strangers will push me towards that goal. That said, I think money is a good motivator and I’m pretty sure I’d feel a lot more comfortable approaching people if I could sweeten the deal with a twenty (is £20 even enough, I wonder?)
NOTE: I decided to split this research into two posts (this post was getting rather large). This is the end of the first.
1 – Diane Arbus, Jack Dracula, the Marked Man, 1961 – http://www.artnet.com/artists/diane-arbus/jack-dracula-the-marked-man-a-XObEaJKKVaVV7MHzEF2B4Q2 [accessed 10/12/18]
2 – Diane Arbus, The Human Pincushion, Roland C. Harrison, MD, 1962 – http://www.artnet.com/artists/diane-arbus/the-human-pincushion-roland-c-harrison-md-a-AMsCOsAY8TmcLp8qCjxxoQ2 [accessed 1012/18]
3 – Richard Avedon, Ronald Fischer, beekeeper, Davis, California, 1981 – https://www.avedonfoundation.org/the-work [accessed 10/12/18]
4 – Richard Avedon, Boyd Fortin, thirteen-year-old rattlesnake skinner, Sweetwater, 1979 – https://www.avedonfoundation.org/the-work [accessed 10/12/18]
5 – Richard Avedon, Mental Institution #3, East Louisiana State Mental Hospital, Jackson, Louisiana, 1963 – https://www.avedonfoundation.org/the-work [accessed 10/12/18]
6 – Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol and Members of the Factory, 1969 – https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/avedon-andy-warhol-and-members-of-the-factory-30-october-1969-p13101 [accessed 10/12/18]
7 – Charlotte Cotton, The Photograph as Contemporary Art, third edition, 2014. Thames & Hudson, Ltd.: London.
8 – Rineke Dijkstra, Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, 1994 – https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/dijkstra-julie-den-haag-netherlands-february-29-1994-p78097 [accessed 11/12/18]
9 – Rineke Dijkstra, Tecla, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1994 – https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/dijkstra-tecla-amsterdam-netherlands-may-16-1994-p78098 [accessed 11/12/18]
10 – Rineke Dijkstra, Saskia, Harderwijk, Netherlands, 1994 – https://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/P/P78/P78099_8.jpg [accessed 11/12/18]
11 – https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/dijkstra-julie-den-haag-netherlands-february-29-1994-p78097 [accessed 11/12/18]
12 – Rineke Dijkstra, Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26, 1992 – http://www.artnet.com/artists/rineke-dijkstra/kolobrzeg-poland-26-july-FQreE0vQ4iCuAsPozecBxg2 [accessed 11/12/18]
13 – Rineke Dijkstra, Dubrovnik, Croatia, July 13, 1996 – http://www.artnet.com/artists/rineke-dijkstra/dubrovnik-croatia-july-13-1996-m6DTMPuwdFKVUkrkfD6k_Q2 %5Baccessed 11/12/18]
14 – Rineke Dijkstra, Dubrovnik, Croatie, July 16, 1996 – http://www.artnet.com/artists/rineke-dijkstra/dubrovnik-croatie-july-16-1996-FGBPP8cu7I-xoSPqvkCowA2 [accessed 11/12/18]
15 – Rineke Dijkstra, Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 27, 1992 – http://www.artnet.com/artists/rineke-dijkstra/kolobrzeg-poland-july-27-_4grMaYmxnBS-cAyjFWaSg2 [accessed 11/12/18]
16 – Katy Grannan, Anonymous, Boulevard Series, 2008-2010 – http://www.artnet.com/artists/katy-grannan/anonymous-boulevard-series-a-f_d0_hf5bDvBqyEd-WpJGw2 [accessed 11/12/18]
17 – Katy Grannan, Anonymous, San Francisco, 2010 – http://www.artnet.com/artists/katy-grannan/anonymous-san-francisco-2010-a-eIGWp7zJKSoW_FBUyhlkAA2 [accessed 11/12/18]
18 – Katy Grannan, Anonymous, Los Angeles, 2009 – http://www.artnet.com/artists/katy-grannan/anonymous-los-angeles-2009-a-XOW1TQwBiDGVjPRbWTakDw2 [accessed 11/12/18]